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New Legislature could break gambling logjam

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:18AM



JOLIET — For two years in a row, Joliet has counted on the governor’s veto to block an expansion of casino gambling that would likely cut into the local share of gaming taxes. But those days could end with new veto-proof Democratic majorities in the state Legislature.

Democrats won enough seats last week in both the state House and Senate that they have enough votes to override a veto without help from Republicans.

Joliet Mayor Thomas Giarrante said he has started to think about what that means for the next push in Springfield to expand gambling.

“It is veto-proof, so the governor cannot veto the gaming bill to get what he would like,” Giarrante said. “So, I am concerned.”

For two years, Joliet has liked Gov. Pat Quinn’s vetoes of gambling bills pushed by Democratic leaders. The city is particularly worried about how much business the two casinos in Joliet would lose to a proposed south suburban casino and slot machines at horse-racing tracks in the suburbs.

The Senate is scheduled to take up a vote in the November veto session to override Quinn’s latest veto of gambling legislation, said Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet. But if such a vote takes place, it would come before the new veto-proof House and Senate takes power on Jan. 9.

McGuire, who voted against gambling expansion in May, noted that Democrats do not vote in lockstep on the issue. The May vote among Senate Democrats was 24 in favor of gambling expansion and 10 against.

But, McGuire said, two of the new Senate Democrats come from areas that would get casinos under the current legislation — Melinda Bush in Lake County and Steve Stadelman in Rockford.

“With the addition of a new senator from Lake County and a new senator from Rockford, the vote may shift,” McGuire said.

But it’s no sure thing.

Bush has been critical of the state becoming too dependent on casino tax dollars. And Stadelman will replace a Republican who already favored casino expansion.

Tom Swoik, a casino industry lobbyist in Springfield, said he has some work to do before figuring out how the new Legislature is likely to vote on gambling expansion.

“Some of the people coming in may not favor expansion,” Swoik said. From his point of view, “Everything’s still up in the air like it usually is.”

In Joliet, meanwhile, city officials are working on a 2013 budget that already calculates a $556,000 decline in casino tax revenue, which has fallen every year since 2007.

The city to some extent is bracing for the possibility of gambling expansion, Giarrante said.

“You’ve got to prepare for it,” the mayor said. “You start trimming now.”



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